How Education Works

Teaching, Technology, and Technique

by Jon Dron

How Education Works book cover

This is a placeholder site for the book How Education Works: Teaching, Technology, and Technique, by Jon Dron, due to be published in Spring 2023 by AU Press, with a Creative Commons open licence so there will be a free-to-read version as well as paper and electronic copies for sale. Here's a link to the book's web page on the AU Press site.

From the publisher's site, this is what it is about:

In this engaging volume, Jon Dron views education, learning, and teaching through a technological lens that focuses on the parts we play in technologies, from language and pedagogies to computers and regulations. He proposes a new theory of education whereby individuals are not just users but co-participants in technologies— technologies that are intrinsic parts of our cognition, of which we form intrinsic parts, through which we are entangled with one another and the world around us. Dron reframes popular families of educational theory (objectivist, subjectivist, and complexivist) and explains a variety of educational phenomena, including the failure of learning style theories, the nature of literacies, systemic weaknesses in learning management systems, the prevalence of cheating in educational institutions, and the fundamental differences between online and in-person learning. Ultimately, How Education Works articulates how practitioners in education can usefully understand technology, education, and their relationship to improve teaching practice.

This will eventually turn into a full website providing access to the book itself and other useful resources. In the meantime, here are a couple of papers that summarize the main arguments of the book:

A short, fully open paper...

Learning, Technology, and Technique, Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology (Vol. 48 No. 1, 2022).

Abstract: To be human is to be a user, a creator, a participant, and a co-participant in a richly entangled tapestry of technologies – from computers to pedagogical methods – that make us who we are as much as our genes. The uses we make of technologies are themselves, nearly always, also technologies, techniques we add to the entangled mix to create new assemblies. The technology of greatest interest is thus not any of the technologies that form that assembly, but the assembly itself. Designated teachers are never alone in creating the assembly that teaches. The technology of learning almost always involves the co-participation of countless others, notably learners themselves but also the creators of systems, artifacts, tools, and environments with and in which it occurs. Using these foundations, this paper presents a framework for understanding the technological nature of learning and teaching, through which it is possible to explain and predict a wide range of phenomena, from the value of one-to-one tutorials, to the inadequacy of learning style theories as a basis for teaching, and to see education not as a machine made of methods, tools, and systems but as a complex, creative, emergent collective unfolding that both makes us, and is made of us.

A longer paper going into a bit more depth...

Free to read: Educational Technology: What it is and How it Works: AI & Society (Vol. 37 No. 1, 2022)

Preprint version, free to download:

Abstract: This theoretical paper elucidates the nature of educational technology and, in the process, sheds light on a number of phenomena in educational systems, from the no-significant-difference phenomenon to the singular lack of replication in studies of educational technologies. Its central thesis is that we are not just users of technologies but coparticipants in them. Our participant roles may range from pressing power switches to designing digital learning systems to performing calculations in our heads. Some technologies may demand our participation only to enact fixed, predesigned orchestrations correctly. Other technologies leave gaps that we can or must fill with novel orchestrations, which we may perform more or less well. Most are a mix of the two, and the mix varies according to context, participant, and use. This participative orchestration is highly distributed: in educational systems, coparticipants include the learner, the teacher, and many others, from textbook authors to LMS programmers, as well as the tools and methods they use and create. From this perspective, all learners and teachers are educational technologists. The technologies of education are seen to be deeply, fundamentally, and irreducibly human, complex, situated and social in their constitution, their form, and their purpose, and as ungeneralizable in their effects as the choice of paintbrush is to the production of great art.

Places to pre-order the book

AU Press (CA)

Barnes & Noble (US)

Blackwells (UK)

Amazon (CA)

Amazon (JP)

University of Chicago Press (US)

Other books by Jon Dron

Teaching Crowds: Learning & Social Media (2014, with Terry Anderson)

Control & Constraint in E-Learning: Choosing When to Choose (2007)

You can find much more of Jon Dron's work at